Cottage Q&A: Are neighbours causing my noisy pipes?

Stainless steel pipes against a concrete wall By Oppdowngalon/Shutterstock

I never had any problems with my plumbing until last year when my neighbours put in a well about 35 feet from mine. Shortly thereafter I was shocked by a very loud humming noise, coming from my basement. I figured out it was the water pipes vibrating. It has even woken me from sleep at 3 a.m.! What’s causing this?—Perplexed by Plumbing

Assuming each well has different pipes running to different cottages, our experts think that the neighbours’ well is likely not the cause of your rackety pipes. The only way one well could affect the other would be if the two plumbing systems were connected (a weird and incorrect set-up), or if your neighbours have tapped into your system, are stealing your water, and “are covering their tracks really well,” says Matt Girard, the owner of M&J Plumbing in Peterborough. It’s not impossible—just unlikely. (Still, ask your neighbours. Maybe they’re experiencing plumbing hijinks too.)

How are well rights determined?

But back to the pipes: Something’s making them vibrate. “Start from the simplest cause, and work your way back,” says Girard. Pipes can hum (also wail, moan, bleat, and scream) for all sorts of reasons: for example, if they’re loose or unsupported, if there’s excessive water pressure, or because of worn faucet washers.

Henry Blanchard, the owner of R.C. Austin Plumbing and Electric in Port Carling, Ont., thinks your toilet may be the culprit: A tiny leak—from a rubber flapper valve that doesn’t fully seal, say—could cause it to run in the middle of the night. That, coupled with a few pipes that aren’t secured properly, could generate the seemingly out-of nowhere 3 a.m. humming. “It only takes a small vibration at one location to resonate through the rest of the building,” says Blanchard.

Cottage Q&A: Noisy plumbing

If you rule out these simple explanations (plus any wacky ones: secret government fracking project, mole people living in the basement, a poltergeist), and the pipes still won’t pipe down, call a plumber to investigate further.

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